“If you have money to spare, you can give it to them, but don’t expect to get it back.”

It seems like everyone I know has been emailing me asking for money for his or her Kickstarter projects, charity endeavors or business startups. I want to help, but I also have a hefty Visa balance to pay off. So I asked an expert what a polite, caring gal like me (and good people like you) should do.

For the last year, many of my Facebook friends posted status updates urging people to donate money to fund their projects or business startups through Kickstarter, an online platform to raise funds.

You’ve probably seen the same requests appear on your wall. Kickstarter works —  people have pledged over $750 million to various Kickstarter campaigns.

But over the last few months, I’ve noticed a change in how people ask for Kickstarter donations. Instead of posting status updates, which are easy to ignore, people have been sending me private messages asking for donations.

Not group messages, but “Dear Patty …” private messages that detail the project. For example, one Facebook friend who I occasionally see out in the real world sent me a message that started with,

Hey Patty, Long time no see. Did you hear the Replacements are coming to town? I can’t wait. I wanted to tell you about a documentary I’m making, and how I’m raising money on Kickstarter for it.

The rest of the email detailed the documentary, and asked me to donate something — anything — to help out.

A few days later, a family member sent me an email (just me, not everyone in our family) asking me to donate money for a community garden she wanted to start in her neighborhood.

I’m not the type of person to ignore an email or Facebook message, especially if I’m the only recipient. I like to think I have good manners, and to ignore their requests seems low brow.

(A few weeks later, I questioned their manners when I realized that their seemingly “personal messages” to me were likely copy and pasted and sent to many people. My friend’s Replacements reference made me think he was truly reaching out to me, but in reality, the Replacements are an 80s indie rock band that anyone between the ages of 30 and 45 would be interested in seeing again. He probably sent the same message to any Facebook friend who might like the Replacements).

I was instantly sympathetic to their pleas for help — I’m a huge movie lover (Daryl Hannah’s whistle song from Kill Bill is my ringtone). And of course I want to help people get healthier and make ugly neighborhoods prettier, which has been proven to reduce crime.

The problem is I owe thousands to credit card companies. Not to mention my mortgage, car payment and monthly bills. I’m expecting my first child this winter, and in addition to all of the leopard print baby clothes I want to buy her, I just found out it costs $6500 to set up a nursery and buy the basics for the first year of life.

But in the end, I sent each of these friends $10 through PayPal. Twenty bucks may not seem like much, but it got me thinking about all of the other money I’ve donated to friends over the last year. After searching through old emails, I found I’ve given about $100 away, which could have been better spent on my credit card debt.

So I’ve decided that I need to stop giving friends and family money until I take care of my own financial needs. But I don’t want to be a jerk about it.

You may be in the same situation. I asked Dr. Daniela Schreier, a Clinical Psychologist, how you and I can respond when friends and family ask for money. Here’s her advice:

Before you start feeling guilty, ask yourself how close this person really is to you.

“You can’t give money to everybody,” says Dr. Schreier.

It’s especially unnecessary — and financially imprudent — to give money to people who aren’t even really your friends, but just your acquaintances. In the age of Facebook “friends,” it’s easy to confuse the two.

“Acquaintances send you Facebook messages and occasionally meet you socially,” she says. “Friends go with you through thick and thin. They’re few and far between.”

In my situation, I realized the two people who most recently asked me for money aren’t really friends. We’re acquaintances. I see them occasionally — and usually randomly.

From now on, when someone asks me for money, I’m going to ask myself three questions:

  1. Do I know this person’s middle name?
  2. Does he/she know mine?
  3. Have I seen this person in the last six months face to face?

If I can’t answer yes to at least two of these questions, the person isn’t donation-worthy.

Support acquaintances emotionally, not financially.

“All of us — but women especially — worry that if we don’t help someone out, they won’t like us anymore, or that we’re not good people if we don’t help others,” says Schreier.

True, but I can’t just ignore the message and not reply at all.

“Email the person back saying, ‘It’s great you’re doing this. I’m happy for you and wish you well,’” says Dr. Schreier. “Definitely send them a positive message of support.”

Schreir adds there’s no need to explain your reasons for not giving the person money. But if you’re like me, you overshare, and overexplain.  “If you feel you should, explain that you have rent, or a mortgage, or a family. It’s certainly understandable in this economy that people can’t throw money around,” Schreier says.

If you do give money, keep this in mind…

Sometimes, it’s just too hard to say no to a good friend or family member, especially if that person is someone you see regularly, and usually just after your return from a luxurious beach vacation.

“If you have some money to spare, you can give it to them, but don’t expect to get it back,” says Dr. Schreier. “Familiarity breeds higher unreliability in payback.”

Huh? Wouldn’t close friends and family be more apt to pay you back?

Not if they have strangers they need to pay back first. The debtor will assume that because you two are such good pals, you’ll understand if they have other people to reimburse before you.

Schreier suggests that to avoid getting frustrated down the road as you wait (and wait and wait) to be repaid, tell the person at the onset that you don’t want the money back. “Say, ‘Here’s $100 and I’m happy to help. I don’t even want the money back. But that’s all the money I can give you for this.’”

If you definitely want to get your money back, or you want to invest a large amount of money but expect some rewards (like  stock in exchange for helping a friend’s start up), treat the person like a business partner. “Tell them you’ll only discuss the matter during official business meetings, and you want to see budgets and so on,” Dr. Schreier says.

I thought of a way to stop people from even asking me at all. I’m going to post this article on my Facebook page so that people hopefully read it and know better than to even ask me. Try doing the same!

 How do you avoid giving away your life savings to friends?

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About the author

Total Articles: 37
Patty Lamberti is a freelance writer and Professional-in-Residence at Loyola University Chicago, where she teaches journalism and oversees the graduate program in digital media storytelling. If she doesn't know something about money, you can trust she'll track down the right people to find out. You can learn more about her at www.pattylamberti.com. And if you have any story ideas, or questions about money etiquette that you'd like her or an expert to answer, email her at [email protected]